Fibromyalgia is defined as a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, joint and muscle tenderness. Although fibromyalgia is a common musculoskeletal disorder surpassed only by osteoarthritis, it remains misunderstood and frequently misdiagnosed.
There is no clear cause for fibromyalgia and so far, no sure cure. However, new research suggests that there may be a link between trauma during the developmental years and painful conditions with no apparent cause, especially fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia may be the result of severe stress that creates permanent changes in the brain and central nervous system. Research indicates that severe childhood stress and abuse floods the brain with cortisol, affecting the way short- and long-term memories are stored. Primarily affected is the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory creation.
Trauma during childhood may trigger such increased sensitivity to pain that even a gentle touch or wind blowing across the face may be painful experiences.
In a survey involving more than 2,400 women suffering from chronic pain, seven out of 10 reported experiencing at least one incident of childhood trauma, while only 29 percent of pain sufferers said they experienced no childhood trauma.
Emotional abuse was the most common form of trauma, followed by bullying, sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, physical violence and the death of a parent or other loved one. Also reported were traumas such as divorce, addiction or natural disasters.
Opposing Voices: It’s all in your Head
Some people think the childhood trauma theory doesn’t hold water because nearly all adults experienced some sort of trauma as children; yet not all grow up to develop fibromyalgia or other chronic pain.
Other fibromyalgia experts (and fibromyalgia sufferers) are concerned that this theory may prompt doctors to dismiss complaints of severe pain as being “all in your head,” and may even withhold pain-relieving medications.
Some fear that physicians may simply send patients off to a counselor or psychiatrist, but others suggest that maybe this wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. In other words, until the medical world acknowledges the connection between mind and body, fibromyalgia sufferers will continue to have no real access to effective treatment.
In fact, many believe that physicians who recommend counseling may be doing their patients a tremendous favor, and that it may be a mistake for fibromyalgia suffers to avoid counseling with a qualified therapist.